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The 2017 BioArt Winners

Scroll below for the winners of the 2017 BioArt Contest.

Marina Venero Galanternik1*, Daniel Castranova1, Tuyet Nguyen2, and Brant M. Weinstein1*

1Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, MD)
2University of Maryland (College Park, MD)
*Society for Developmental Biology

Research Focus: Cardiovascular development

This microscopy image shows that Fluorescent Granular Perithelial cells (FGPs, in green) are closely associated with the blood vessels (red) that surround an adult zebrafish’s brain. FGPs are novel type of cell found in both zebrafish and mammals, and researchers suspect that they play a key role in maintaining the blood–brain barrier and clearing toxic substances from the brain. Investigators from the Intramural Research Program of the NIH Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development are using the zebrafish to further our understanding of the function of FGPs. They recently discovered that FGPs are closely related to cells that form the lymphatic system, which collects, cleans, and returns fluid to the circulatory system.


Dimitra Pouli1, Sevasti Karaliota2, Katia P. Karalis2, and Irene Georgakoudi1

1Tufts University (Medford, MA)
2Biomedical Research Foundation, Academy of Athens (Athens, Greece)

Research Focus: Fat metabolism

These white fat cells were imaged using a specialized technology called Coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS). This label-free, noninvasive process uses near-infrared light to probe the vibrations of specific types of atomic bonds. The output of CARS lets scientists “see” where high concentrations of fat (lipids) are present in intact living tissue. This research team is studying the metabolic behavior of tissues with lots of white fat cells (energy-storing) versus those with many brown fat cells (energy-dissipative). Through this NIH National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering-supported project, they aim to expand our understanding of how different fat tissues work, which might inform new interventions for obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.


João Botelho, Daniel Smith, Macarena Faunes, and Bhart-Anjan Bhullar

Yale University and Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (New Haven, CT)

Research Focus: Evolutionary developmental biology

This alligator embryo is in the early stages of organ development or organogenesis. Fluorescent labeling highlights the nerves (green), muscles (orange), and cell nuclei (blue). At this developmental stage, several crocodylian characteristics are becoming apparent, including a long tail and the massive trigeminal nerve in the head – which makes an alligator’s face more sensitive than a human fingertip. However, it still looks very similar to a bird embryo, which is no coincidence: crocodylians and birds are each other's closest living relatives. Their common ancestor lived over 250 million years ago and would have looked like a small dinosaur. This research team is comparing alligator and chicken development to identify differences that produce bird-like characteristics. The NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences supports these researchers’ studies of the evolution and development of bird body structures.


Courtney Fleming1,2, Birnur Akkaya2,3, and Umut A. Gurkan2

1Cleveland Institute of Art (Cleveland, OH)
2Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH)
3Cumhuriyet University (Sivas, Turkey)

Research Focus: Mercury toxicity

Exposure to mercury poses serious health risks to the human body, including increased susceptibility to cardiovascular disease. In this research project, investigators are studying the effect of mercury exposure on the circulatory system and collaborated with an artist to illustrate their findings. Normal red blood cells have a distinct doughnut-like shape, which allows them to squeeze through vessels smaller than their diameter. The mercury-exposed red blood cells in this illustration, however, appear deformed with spikey projections. The researchers also found that mercury exposure alters how red blood cells interact with blood vessel surfaces. This work was made possible by funding from the NSF Directorate for Engineering and the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK).


Rebekah Taylor* and Logan Cheshire

Frostburg State University (Frostburg, MD)
*American Association of Immunologists

Research Focus: Microscopy in education

Mealybugs (Pseudococcus sp.) are common pests of greenhouse and tropical plants, sucking juice from plant leaves and stems. They also can transmit diseases between the plants they feed upon. For protection, mealybugs secrete a waxy powder that covers their whole body. This image of those waxy secretions was created as part of Dr. Taylor’s Advanced Microscopy course. During this course, undergraduate students learn imaging techniques used by biological and medical researchers. One student, Mr. Cheshire, chose mealybugs for one of his samples. After sputter coating a whole-mounted mealybug in gold-palladium, he imaged it with a scanning electron microscope and observed that the wax powder is composed of uniform curls.


Victor Padilla-Sanchez*

The Catholic University of America (Washington, DC)
*International Society of Computational Biology

Research Focus: Virus assembly

The Bacteriophage T4 virus (left panel) infects the bacterium Escherichia coli. Resembling a lunar lander, this virus stores its DNA in its icosahedral head. Once it “lands” on the surface of an E. coli cell, the virus injects its DNA through the tail (purple tube) into the cell, infecting the bacterium. Dr. Padilla-Sanchez is studying how the viral DNA packaging machine (middle and right panels) loads DNA (red) into the head when new viruses are assembled. Expanding our knowledge about how this virus works might one day allow researchers to engineer it to instead fight cancer and produce vaccines. These images were created with UCSF’s Chimera Visualization Software using raw structural data from the Protein Data Bank as well as cryoEM reconstructions from the Electron Microscopy Data Bank.


Kevin A. Murach, Charlotte A. Peterson*, and John J. McCarthy

University of Kentucky (Lexington, KY)
*American Physiological Society

Research Focus: Skeletal muscles

In this image culture-grown muscle stem cells from a mouse have fused together to form myotubes, mimicking the formation of muscle fibers in living organisms. Fluorescent labeling reveals the myotubes’ multiple nuclei (blue) and distinct striations (red) – both are characteristic of mature muscle fibers. Some of the myotubes also display green fluorescence, which was introduced into the cells with a virus. The researchers plan to use the same viral delivery system to genetically modify the cells and assess how impairing cell fusion alters myotube growth. The NIH National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and National Institute on Aging support their research into muscle growth, adaptation, and recovery in adults, including how muscle stem cells in modify the surrounding cellular environment to promote these activities.


Haley O'Brien*

Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences (Tulsa, OK)
*American Association of Anatomists

Research Focus: Anatomy

Cloven hoofed mammals have a special arterial network inside their skulls that is used to keep their brains cooler than their bodies. Selective brain cooling helps these animals reduce water loss and avoid heat stroke. In this CT scan of an American pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana), a special contrast dye was used to illuminate the skull and arteries. Dr. O’Brien is investigating whether the ability to keep the brain cool has helped these animals survive warming and drying climates. The NSF Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences recently funded the purchase of a x-ray micro-computed tomography (microCT) scanner at the University of Arkansas that will be used by Dr. O’Brien and other researchers in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas to promote scientific discovery and foster academic-industry partnerships.


Vanja Stankic1,2* and Rachel K. Miller1,2,3 *†

1UTHealth McGovern Medical School (Houston, TX)
2MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (Houston, TX)
3University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston, TX)
*Society for Developmental Biology
†Genetics Society of America

Research Focus: Kidney development

Cilia (yellow) are specialized hair-like structures on cells. Some cilia are motile and can beat in coordination, creating a directional fluid flow. This motion is used to propel an egg toward the uterus, circulate cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, and clear airway tracts in the respiratory system. Immotile cilia within the kidney are thought act as sensors of fluid flow. Structural and functional defects in cilia are linked to infertility, brain abnormalities, chronic respiratory problems, and kidney abnormalities. This image show skin cells from a frog (Xenopus laevis) embryo, which also have motile cilia and are commonly used as a research model for cilia development, or ciliogenesis. These NIH National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases-funded researchers are using this frog model to study the role of ciliogenesis in kidney development.


Bruce W. Arey1, Carolyn I. Pearce1, Jamie L. Weaver2, Edward Vicenzi3, Thomas Lam3, Tamas Varga1, Micah D. Miller1, Michele A. Conroy1, John S. McCloy4, Rolf Sjoblom5, Eva Hjarthner-Holdar6, Erik Ogenhall6, Michael J. Schweiger1, John S. McCloy1, David Peeler1, and Albert A. Kruger7

1Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Richland, WA)
2National Institute of Standards and Technology (Gaithersburg, MD)
3Smithsonian Institution's Museum Conservation Institute (Suitland, MD)
4Washington State University (Pullman, WA)
5Tekedo AB (Nyköping, Sweden)
6Arkeologerna (Stockholm, Sweden)
7Department of Energy Office of River Protection (Richland, WA)

Research Focus: Glass stability

This image shows a microbial community (light green) living on the surface of ancient glass collected from Swedish hillforts, which predate the Vikings. Researchers are studying ancient materials to further our knowledge about the stability of glass, which will be used to safely store low-activity nuclear waste at the Hanford Site in Washington State. Vitrification, a process where hazardous waste is trapped in the molecular structure of glass, prevents the liquid waste from leaking into the environment and allows radioactivity to safely dissipate over thousands of years. Ancient glass samples like this one are of particular interest because they have a similar chemical composition to glass produced through the vitrification process. This work is supported by the Department of Energy Office of River Protection.


Olga Zueva1,Thomas Heinzeller2, Daria Mashanova3, and Vladimir Mashanov1

1University of North Florida (Jacksonville, FL)
2Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (München, Germany)
3Mandarin High School (Jacksonville, FL)

Research Focus: Nervous system

Brittle stars and starfish have radial symmetry, with a nerve cord running down the length of each arm. This 3D model shows the nervous system within one arm segment of a brittle star (Amphipholis kochii). The colors indicate the three subdivisions of its nervous system: the ectoneural system (green); the hyponeural system (magenta); and mixed peripheral nerves (blue). This pattern of nerves is repeated in all segments throughout an arm. To create this model, the research team imaged thin sections of a brittle stars arm and used specialized software to assemble and fine-tune the model. Scientists are increasingly using brittle stars and other echinoderms to study limb regeneration, bioluminescence, and other features. Their NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences-supported work expands our fundamental knowledge of how echinoderm nervous systems are organized.


Scott Chimileski1*, Sylvie Laborde2, Nicholas Lyons1, and Roberto Kolter1

1Harvard Medical School (Boston, MA)
2Harvard Museum of Natural History (Cambridge, MA)
*Genetics Society of America

Research Focus: Bacterial biofilms

Strictly speaking, bacteria are single celled organisms. However, when bacteria grow and interact in high numbers, they can develop into colonies and biofilms – some large enough to be seen by the naked eye. These colonies have properties that the individual cells do not possess, such as collective behaviors. Thus, bacterial colonies can exhibit some traits associated with multicellular organisms. This model of a Bacillus licheniformis biofilm was created by 3D scanning a living colony; it was printed in stainless steel at 12 times the actual size and is currently on display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. The ridges increase surface area and increase access to oxygen for the millions of cells within the biofilm. These NIH National Institute of General Medical Sciences-funded investigators are studying the unique properties of biofilms, particularly when more than one bacterial species is present.


Matthew S. Joens, Kel Vin Woo, Daniel J. Geanon, David M. Ornitz*, and James A.J. Fitzpatrick

Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis, MO)
*American Association of Anatomists and Society of Developmental Biology

Research Focus: Lung disease

High blood pressure in the lungs, known as pulmonary hypertension, strains the heart and can lead to death. It is a common complication among preterm infants with bronchopulmonary dysplasia and adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As both of these conditions cause prolonged and repeated exposure to low oxygen, the team is studying how low oxygen conditions affect blood vessels in the lungs. Using x-ray microscopy with a nanogold tracer to visualize blood flow, the researchers created this 3D rendering of lung blood vessels in a mouse. Their research is supported in part by the NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.


Tessa Montague1* and Zuzka Vavrušová2*

1Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)
2University of California San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)
*Society for Developmental Biology

Research Focus: Developmental biology

Each square shows the first 24 hours of embryo development in a different animal species (from left to right): 1. Zebrafish (Danio rerio); 2. Sea urchin (Lytechinus variegatus); 3. Black widow spider (Latrodectus); 4. Tardigrade (Hypsibius dujardini); 5. Sea squirt (Ciona intestinalis); 6. Comb jelly (Ctenophore, Mnemiopsis leidyi); 7. Parchment tube worm (Chaetopterus variopedatus); 8. Roundworm (Caenorhabditis elegans); and 9. Slipper snail (Crepidula fornicata).

Some of these animals share striking developmental features, such as rapid early cell division and the generation of a ciliated larval form. Other organisms display idiosyncratic features. For example, ctenophore cells undergo asymmetric cytokinesis and the tardigrade embryo develops inside its mother’s old cuticle. These movies were captured during the Marine Biological Laboratory 2017 Embryology Course with equipment provided by Zeiss. The Embryology Course was supported in part by the NIH National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.


David Oppenheimer*

University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)
*American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Society for Developmental Biology, and Genetics Society of America

Research Focus: Molecular biology

Although protein structures are often shown as static images, in real life proteins twist and wiggle. Proteins and all other biological molecules are formed of individual atoms (red is Oxygen, grey is Hydrogen, blue is Carbon, and purple is Nitrogen), which can rotate around their bonds creating this movement. This flexibility is essential for protein function. The protein profilin, shown here, is found in many types of organisms, from yeasts to humans. It regulates the assembly of structural proteins in the cell, which together form the cell’s cytoskeleton.